Tuesday 25 March 2014

Europe's Best Goal Scoring Partnerships

After writing about the Premier League's best goal scoring partnerships a while back, I was inundated (one comment) with requests for something similar for other leagues. So, instead of signing up to do some accountancy exams that I've been putting off for 13 years, I decided the best way to spend some spare time would be to put together another list for absolutely no reward. I hope somebody somewhere enjoys reads this.

With the return to favour of partnerships such as Suarez and Sturridge, (#dare to) Zlatan and Cavani, and Negredo and Aguero, what better time to have a look back at some of the best partnerships before them. Having searched a whole two pages of Google without finding something exactly the same as this, I thought it was time to put together a combined list.

Rules and Workings
I've decided to go back 25 years to cover the 1988-89 to the 2012-13 seasons. Why 25 years? Well that just about covers my football watching memory and it's a nice round number. I've decided to include just the Top four Leagues in Europe - the top divisions in England, Germany, Italy and Spain (based on European Trophies won).

A partnership is only considered so if both players (regardless of position)have scored at least 10 goals each. For this list, I've only combined those pairs with 30 goals or more, so sadly that would exclude van Wolfswinkel and Elmander's herculean haul of 2 goals from this season. Tough break fellas.

A further blow to the Norwich duo's chances are that this season's partnerships are not included as they'll instantly make this post out of date. Expect to see Suarez and Sturridge included in the next update in space year 2038.

Joking aside, as I type, Suarez and Sturridge have just hit their combined 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th goals of the season against Cardiff, so they definitely make it into the Top Partnerships list, but as the season hasn't ended yet, their number is likely to change.

It's worth noting that the German League has fewer games, and the other leagues have varied in number of teams.

And lastly, it's league goals only.

The Stats

In all, there's a whopping 221 instances of 30 goal partnerships in the Top Four European leagues over the last 25 completed seasons - actually a lot higher than I'd expected. Spain lead the way with 70, followed by England (61), Italy (49) and Germany (41). No real shock there as Germany has fewer games, as did Italy for a good chunk of the 25 seasons in question. In terms of clubs represented, there are a decent 61 (Spain 17, England 16, Italy 15 and Germany 13).

At the top end of the food chain are the mighty Real Madrid with a 30 goal partnership in 19 of the 25 seasons recorded. No wonder they win quite a lot. As you'd expect, anything they can do, Barcelona can almost do (that would make a catchy song), and the Catalans are second on the list with a healthy 17 partnerships represented. Aside from Spain, England have Man Utd and Liverpool in double figures (13 + 10), whilst somewhat surprisingly, it's Bayer Leverkusen who lead the way in Germany with 10 partnerships making the 30 goal mark. For Italy, AC Milan are the team with the most deadly duos, featuring 8 times.

At the bottom end, there are 25 clubs with just one 30 goal partnership, sadly, my team don't even have that. The likes of Coventry's Dublin and Huckerby, are joined for their day in the sun by Villarreal's Forlan and Riquelme (2004-05). And who could forget Bochum's world famous Thomas Christiansen and Vahid Hashemian with their 31 goal haul in 2002-03. I know I certainly won't.

The 50 goal club

As mentioned above, there's a great deal of 30 goal partnerships, so many in fact, that I wonder why I used that number. So to get things going, here's a list of those partnerships that scored at least 50 league goals in a season. Just to manage expectations - it's a bit heavy with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Best Strike Partnerships (50 goals +)

In fact it's basically La Liga's greatest partnerships plus three others.

As its illegal not to mention both Ronaldo and Messi when speaking about the Spanish league, it's worth having a quick look at their record in this list. Interestingly, both players have been part of a successful partnership as the second scorer - which is really what you'd have expected a few years back, with both players featuring out wide early on. Ronaldo's first season in Madrid saw him form one of the most balanced partnerships on this list, with Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine banging in a decent 27 goals to the shy Portuguese's 26. A pretty good debut season before the championship manager stats started kicking in. Messi's season as the second scorer was in the 2008-09 season that saw Samuel Eto'o hitting 30 to Messi's 23.

Man City fans may be surprised to see Edin Dzeko in 6th place with the wall decorating Brazilian Grafite (I'm sorry) making up the pair - the highest Bundeliga entry with 54 goals. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have combined for 30+ goals on two occasions, with the 2009-10 season seeing a combined 51 league goals for the Chelsea legends - albeit not a typical strike partnership. However, in first place for England are Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley with a whopping 55 - all for a promoted club too. Impressive stuff. Must have been before Cole needed five chances to score (Glenn Hoddle's words, not mine).

Fans of 90s football will be disappointed not to see any Italian partnerships breaking the 50 goal mark but heartened to see the Original Ronaldo and (possibly the original) Luis Enrique with 51 goals in the 1996-97 season. Ronaldo who started the season aged just 19 would score 47 goals (all tournaments) in his only season with the Catalan giants. Damn you Gods of injury.

What is also interesting (depending on your definition), is that 11 of the 50 goal partnerships have been in the last five years - at a time when 4-5-1's have become the norm. Although a lot of them are rather dependent on Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo being involved.

The number one partnership sees Ronaldo paired up with Higuain for the 3rd time to make a 50 goal mark. The winning season being 2011-12 when Mourinho's men managed to break Barca's dominance of La Liga. A phenomenal 68 league goals from just two players is quite frankly bonkers.

Both Ronaldo and Messi feature in four 50 goal partnerships - Messi with 4 different partners, the big flirt.

Top 20 Partnerships By Country

I planned to show a top ten by country, but La Liga's are already on show, and it would also mean leaving out the likes of Batistuta and Oliveira who thrived on Rui Costa's assists in 1997-98. And because we haven't featured much from Serie A just yet, now seems as good a time as any. So without further ado:

Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013
Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships

Premier League/Division One Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013
Premier League Top Scoring Partnerships

La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013
La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships

Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013
Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships v2

I know what you're thinking - where's Vialli and Mancini? They were undoubtedly a great strike partnership, but they were also playing in the most defensive era of a league known for being defensive. They're best season together came in 1990-91 when they combined to score 31 league goals (ranked 35th in the Serie A charts).

It also turns out there was top flight football in England before the Premier League, I'm just as surprised as you. There's three entries from the old Division One, with Barnes and Rush scoring a decent 39 combined goals in the triumphant 1989-90 season for Liverpool, followed by Le Tissier and Wallace (Rod) for Southampton and Wright and Campbell for Arsenal.

Spain's list sees the crowd pleasing entry of Romario and Stoichkov, who notched 46 goals in 1993-94 whilst the Bundesliga entry reminds us of just how good Roy Makaay was. In fact the Dutchman is one of a number of players who feature across multiple leagues, with the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldo (not a typo), Ibrahimovic, Eto'o, Raul and Berbatov (along with others).

Other Notes of Interest
Top 10 Teams are:
Real Madrid19
Man Utd13
Bayer Leverkusen10
Bayern Munich9
AC Milan8

Most Featured Players:

Only 8 players have featured in five or more 30 goal partnerships and top spot doesn't go to Messi or Ronaldo, but rather Raul who has been involved in 10 great partnerships. Across two countries, he scored goals with Morientes, Zamorano, van Nistelrooy (2), Ronaldo (2), Guti, Huntelaar, Higuain, and Suker. That's impressive.

The other compatibles are Cristiano Ronaldo (7), Messi, Del Piero, Makaay, Eto'o, Berbatov, and Rooney (all five).

So there you have it, it's not just the big man-little man partnership (Quinn-Phillips), or the classic goalpoaching number 9 and playmaking number 10 (Romario and Stoichkov) that make great partnerships. It can be wide men with false number 9s, a lone striker with an advanced midfielder (Torres and Gerrard/Drogba and Lampard) or if you're lucky, it may even be Toni Polster and Bruno Labbadia (FC Koln 1994-95).

This season will see entries from Suarez and Sturridge, Ronaldo and Benzema, and Messi and Sanchez. Tevez and Llorente also stand a good chance of joining the elite club along with a few others.

I'll chuck the full list up in the coming days.



Saturday 8 March 2014

World Cup - Big Game Scorers

Continuing the build up to the upcoming World Cup, we've taken a different look at the Top Scorers in the history of the tournament and looks at their big game credentials:
In all, a whopping 2208 Goals have been scored in the nineteen tournaments so far, with 1166 different players getting in on the act - 500 of these goals scored by just 50 players. There's always been a bigger focus on the goalscorers, and this article is guilty of this. Where we're trying to be different however, is to separate those great goalscorers - was your favourite a big game scorer, or a flat track bully?

Our aim was simple on paper - find out who the Big Game Scorers are in the history of the World Cup. "No problem" we said - shouldn't take long. Wrong on both counts. As you'd expect from this site, there's an element of the scientific behind the approach but football isn't always black and white. For a start, the last World Cup had 32 teams competing (there's already talk of expanding to 40 in future installments), compared to the 13 that competed the first edition in 1930. Chuck in a changing format (I'm looking at you 1950, '74, '78 and '82) and certain adjustments have to be made (see below).

In 1994, the Golden Boot was shared between Russia's Oleg Salenko and Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria. On paper, they're both deserving of the appreciation that the title gives. However, Salenko scored 5 of his goals in a group game against Cameroon (which was a dead rubber) after both teams were already out. Stoichkov on the other hand, scored 3 in the group stage (including 2 against Argentina), as well as one in the Last 16, the Quarter Final and the Semi Final. And it's the 1994 golden boot gives the best example of what we're trying to prove here.

With the example of the 1994 World Cup in mind, we decided to create a weighting system based on two major derivatives - the quality of Opposition and the stage of the tournament. Add in those two variations and you've got a points system decided by the weight of the stage divided by the rank of opponent (with the exception being the Final, where full points were awarded for both teams). Fortunately for us, FIFA decided in 1986 to put together a retrospective ranking system based on every tournament from 1930 to 1986, based on performance in the tournament and also each team's qualification record. Even more fortunately, they continued this ranking system after each tournament - giving us a sound basis for the stats.

A little more troublesome was the score given to each round of the tournament. If we were to take the last tournament as a basis, then there's no problem - 6 points for a Final goal, 4 for the Semi, 3 for the Quarters, 2 for the Last 16 and 1 point for a group game goal. The trouble exists in four particular tournaments. Firstly, 1950 didn't even have a Final. By default, the final Group game between Uruguay and Brazil decided who finished top of the group and therefore the World Champions - due to that being decided in the last game, this is often mistaken for the World Cup Final when in fact a draw would have seen Brazil claim the title (for the calculations, this game was treated as a final). Then there's the 1974 and 1978 installments. Despite 1970 being seen as one of the greatest if not the greatest World Cup, it was decided that things would be freshened up by doing away with the Quarter and Semi Finals and instead replacing them with a Final Group stage. It's obvious what you're thinking - that just doesn't sound like FIFA - making a non-sensical decision on a World Cup, but it's true. Due to the larger number of teams in 1982, the Final Group stage remained, but fortunately there was at least a Semi Final round this time. So with that in mind, these are the weightings per stage:

The First Round existed in the 1934/38 Tournaments instead of Group Stages - so when the Dutch East Indies (Now Indonesia), made their way to France in 1938, they probably hoped to play more than one match before the long journey home.

The Data
So on to the main event - just who were the Big Game Scorers in World Cup history. Well there's some obvious names in the list, but also some noteable omissions from the Top 20:

No real great surprise in the winner. Pele played an scored in four tournaments, and most importanly, is one of only four men to have scored in two separate finals along with Vava (2nd), Zidane (3rd) and Paul Breitner in 10th. Also in the Top 10 is Geoff Hurst, the only man to have scored a Hat Trick in the biggest game in Football.

The talking points begin when looking at certain names. Brazil's Ronaldo is the top scorer in the World Cup history yet his 15 goals are worth less than Zidane's five. How so? Well Zidane has three final goals to Ronaldo's two, plus a Semi Final goal and a Round of 16 goal. Zidane is such a big game Scorer, that he doesn't even bother in the group stages. Ronaldo on the other hand, has seven group goals - against the likes of China, Costa Rica and Morocco.

Though he's not really too much of a victim here - he's still in the Top 5 of the Big Game Scorers in the World Cup. How does he compare against the second and third top scorers in World Cup history?

Well it doesn't look too good. Fontaine had the decency to at least score in the Semi Final. Klose on the other hand had a good 2002 World Cup on Paper - scoring 5 goals. However, he also played in the Quarter Final, the Semi Final and the Final that year, all without scoring. Similarly, he top scored in the 2006 World Cup on home soil, and only scored in one of the three knock out games he played (the Quarter Final with Argentina). At the time of writing, Klose is still in with a shout of playing in this year's World Cup and only needs one more goal to equal the record, but as you can see from above, he'll need to do more in the latter stages to really earn a comparison with Ronaldo.

Paul Breitner was the most efficient with his goals, scoring just three but gaining a place in the Top 10 Big Game Goalscorers. Two of his three were in World Cup Finals (1974 and 1982), to add to the group stage goal against 22nd Placed Chile in 1974. In fact the only player not to score in the Final from the Top 20 is England's Gary Lineker. Whilst he has a 50-50 split in Group Stage/Knock Out goals, his Semi Final effort in 1990 was against eventual winners West Germany, whilst his Quarter Final effort in 1986 (which won him the Golden Boot) was also against the team ranked in the number 1 spot - Argentina. Evidence of reward for scoring against the best opposition.

But what of the Flat Track Bullies? Well we've seen the impact of Klose and Fontaine, but they're certainly not the worst offenders of the prolific scorers. One of the World's Top Strikers in the 1990s was Gabriel Batistuta. In fact he was the first man to score a hat trick in two World Cups. Overall, he has 10 goals to his name in the World Cup. His position based on the weightings? He's sitting in 181st place. In this instance, his hat trick in 1994 was against Greece - the team that FIFA ranked 24th out of 24 in that Tournament after they lost all three games, conceding 10 and scoring none. Similarly in 1998, Batigol's hat trick was against Jamaica (ranked 22nd). Of his 10 World Cup goals, 8 of them were in group games and the two knock out goals were both in the Round of 16 (and penalties at that). Undoubtedly an incredible player - but his big game credentials could be questioned on this stage.

Elsewhere, German pair Uwe Seeler and Jurgen Klinsmann have 9 and 11 goals respectively, which are only good enough for 213th and 153rd places. Raul's 5 goals for Spain, see him ranked in 402nd place in the points scored. Someone that normally draws attention in these lists is Maradona. He ranks in a respectable 69th place (out of 1166 players remember). His 8 goals include two at the Semi Final stage against Belgium (4th) and two in the Quarters against England (ranked 8th) - even though he should have points deducted for that hand ball! That sees him tucked in nicely between fellow South Americans Daniel Pasarella and Uruguay's Diego Forlan.

For those looking to be a bit more current, Messi has just one goal in the group stage, Cristiano Ronaldo has just two and Luis Suarez's exploits in South Africa saw just the three goals. The highest ranked player eligible for 2014 is Andres Iniesta, largely due to his winning goal in 2010. It's fair to say that there's not as many big game scorers in modern times.

So what does all of this tell us? Well first and foremost, you should never just look at the goals scored column. Yes, it's an impressive achievement to score a large number of goals in the World Cup like Batistuta or Klose, but they're flattering to deceive on the biggest stages. Players like Brazil's Ronaldo and West Germany's Gerd Muller scored in pretty much every round and the occasion and level of opponent didn't seem to get to them (the strange case of the 1998 Final aside). And then there's the specialists who seem to come alive in the late stages - Hurst, Zidane, Breitner and Brehme.

Another aspect that became clear when putting the stats together is that it's a lot harder to score now. The average number of goals per game peaked in 1954 at a massive 5.38 compared to 2010's 2.27 (second only to 1990's 2.21). Should this be taken into account? Quite possibly. We believe that the ranking system has counted for this (see talking points) but it's certainly worth a discussion.

We know that football isn't just about statistics and goals, but you'd still expect the big name goal scorers to be the big game goal scorers. That's not always the case.

Note: This data was first used on the excellent Football Fanalytics as seen here:

Monday 24 February 2014

Combined Leagues

Want stats by opposition? Click on the name of the league you want to see on the above menu for Team Stats, player comparison and more.

For a quick preview, below are the goalscorers by opponent for all four leagues:

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Buy, Sell, Hold? Premier League Forecast - Round 21

Arsenal improved from last season? Nope. Man Utd destined to finish outside the Top 4? Unlikely. In what is the first ever guest post, Michael Geaghan makes his Premier League predictions based on the season so far and the results in the remaining corresponding fixtures from last season.....

Man City to win the league. Arsenal guaranteed top 4. Man Utd’s league season already finished. Palace to get relegated. Newcastle top half. Maybe, Maybe not.

They say a league only tells the truth at the end of the season. We saw a glimpse of the reality behind this at the midway point in the current season, where the only change in the top 4 was Everton replacing Man Utd in the coveted Champions League positions, even though the talk for the first 15/16 games of the season was whether Liverpool could mount a challenge on the league title only to finish the halfway point in 5th and 6 points behind the leaders.

Every fan has their own memories of their own personal experience of luck at the timing of playing teams, injuries, after a midweek game, whilst the opposition are on a good run, a bad run, the same applying for their team. Starting games with confidence has a huge effect on the outcome of results, but the simplicity is that all teams play each team home and away. At the start of each season each manager will identify where they are going to pick up points, and at the same time expectations are managed post games as to whether their teams have ‘dropped points’ or gained bonus unexpected points.

Every week I overwrite the previous season’s results with the current season’s – for the corresponding fixtures. For example, Arsenal are generally touted as the ‘most improved team of the season so far’. That isn’t actually the case. Although they were top of the league at the halfway point and remain there as I write, they are in fact one point worse off than the same games last season. We all remember, I certainly do as a spurs fan, the incredible run that Arsenal went on towards the end of the season that has slightly skewed the figures, but it does show that they have now consistently been a good team for quite some time. The season finishing and restarting just fell at the wrong time as the last 12 months have definitely showed champion consistency and quality, just not in the same season...so far anyway. This also points towards the basis for this, in looking at the premier league table now and as a forecast for the final positions. If the results are as similar as last season, as has been the case so far, they could even find themselves outside of the top four.

After 21 games, as mentioned above, Arsenal are one point worse off than the same games played last season. I mentioned I am a spurs fan, they are actually one point better off. Clearly though, Arsenal are entering the final 17 games of the season with confidence and with a very different pressure hanging over their shoulders. The games they struggled in last season are the games they have yet to play.

I think a fair argument is that Man City are the best footballing team in the league at the moment and they have the strongest squad, they are though competing on four fronts. they are brutal in front of goal regardless of who the opposition is. The recent game at Newcastle goes to show though that they can get beat, they didn’t, a crazy refereeing decisions helped make sure they got all three points on the day, but they are not indestructible. Their start of season questionable away form appears to have been eradicated. They have already accumulated a staggering 16 points more than in the same games last season. Plus they have achieved this with a little more panache than last season, 28 goals more than the correlating games last season (see goals comparison in the table below). With the bookies end of season points tally spread for City currently set at 82.5-84 I would certainly be buying that, as they are on target for around 88 points. Inheriting last seasons results to complete the league forecast will result in them winning every home game. At home they only have Chelsea, of the so called ‘big teams’, to entertain at the Etihad and so that is not an unachievable target. Away from Manchester they inherit results from last season where they picked up only 14 points (from a possible 24) from the remaining 8 games they have left on the road.

At the bottom of the league, the promoted teams within this system inherit the respective relegated team from last season - Cardiff assume Wigan’s results, Hull assume Reading’s and Palace assume QPR’s. This only really stands due to the team staying in the premier league retaining their results and so implying the result against the promoted teams. The games played against each other is the obvious draw back in this system.

Of the promoted teams though interestingly, and at the same time worryingly for Cardiff and Palace, is that on a like for like comparison Cardiff have accumulated exactly the same amount of points as Wigan had over the same games last season and Palace are 1 point worse off - and that’s against a miserable return of only 25 points that QPR managed to get last season. It’s been quite obvious to see that Hull have certainly done themselves proud in the first half of the season and are well on their way to achieving the 40 points target. On that note I think it may be as low as a good goal difference on 36 points needed to stay in the division this season.

Man Utd at the top end of the division finished the league 11 points better off than second placed City. This means that not only are they finding it tougher this season, but they are inheriting good points emphasising how many points they have dropped compared to last season. A staggering 13 points worse off than last season, by far the largest difference in points versus the previous season. They are though Man Utd, and despite what everyone says, they have the same players as last year and can still very easily go and beat any other team in the league. They are still on target for 76 points, a target that is still very achievable, as they have definitely turned the corner in my view. I think they are out of the title race, but by no means are out for the race for the top four.

West Ham, which I am sure most of you would have noticed, have also been shedding points. They currently sit in the relegation zone having dropped 10 points versus the same games played last season.

Aside from Man City’s increase in fortunes by the 10 points mentioned earlier, Southampton are 11 points better off, and Liverpool close behind with a better return to the tune of 9 points.

See below the forecast league table after 38 games:

How to interpret this?

Stats are stat, numbers are numbers, so long as the assumptions are clear and understood then anyone can interpret the numbers as they wish. For me though the main advantages are vs. the Spreads being offered by bookies as to the final points tally for each individual team. You may be surprised at how some of them read and below is a brief summary comment on each team and the spreads currently being offered as at 15th January 2014. This is by no means any solicitation to encourage anyone to place any bets, or to entice or act as advice in placing any bets, it is shown purely as food for thought based along the lines of the article and along side the fact that the league only tells the truth after all games have been completed.

The format of the note will be:

Current league position: Team Name: Forecast points using my assumptions: Spread being offered: Bet Signal (Buy/Sell/hold/Other, for other see the comment below). If the forecast points and the spread are to close and so no real difference ‘Hold’ will be the call. It is interesting how similar they are and so I only consider the real opportunities in the spreads offered as worth buying or selling.

1: Arsenal: 72: 79-80.5: Other.

I would avoid betting on Arsenal either way. The bookies have them finishing 3rd but as to the points I think they will pick up more than the forecast indicated 72. They dropped points against Swansea, Fulham, Man City and Man Utd at home, whom they are yet to play and away from home dropped points against Stoke, Chelsea, Everton, Tottenham & Southampton. As you glance over the results some are realistic and will happen, I don’t think all will though and so feel a better return than the forecasted 72 points will be achieved, just not enough to want to buy or sell the spread either way from the bookie.

2: Man City: 88: 82.5-84: Buy

As already spoken about I can see City smashing the 84 points being offered by the bookies.

3: Chelsea: 80: 79.5-81: Hold

I think that if you held a gun to my head I would be buying the points as 81. At home only dropping points against Spurs and Man Utd to come, do not give a huge amount of room to deter from last season results to come. Away from home is a different kettle of fish. Of the games remaining they dropped points at Swansea, Palace (well QPR back then), Liverpool, City & West Brom, and I can’t see them dropping points for what would effectively be every other away game. They will drop points but not at the rate they did. The forecast inheriting all these dropped points is bang in the middle of the odds spread being offered and so I would consider a very prudent forecast and buy would be the spread as I think more probability they will pick up more than the forecasted points than they will drop them.

4: Liverpool: 70: 73-74.5: Hold (due to commentary below)

They are a bit of a wild card this season, mainly because of the little genius from Uruguay. Love him or hate him, the guy is incredible. They are yet to host Chelsea, Arsenal, City and Spurs at home (probably shouldn’t include spurs as a possible threat after the 5-0 mauling at the lane a few weeks back). Of those teams they only got full points against spurs last season and so there is a lot of scope for their points tally to improve, coupled with getting beat by Villa at home. Liverpool do not have what would be considered as really tough games away from home apart from Man Utd, for which they are not ‘expected’ to get three points.

5: Everton: 66: 67.5-69: Sell

I think the big difference in the second half of the season will come from the home wins against Man Utd and Man City, which I can’t see them getting full points from again. Away from home results I can see staying fairly consistent with last season, games to play away from home = 9, those games last season saw them win 1, lose 4 and draw 4.

6: Tottenham: 73: 68.5-70:  Buy

I promise this is unbiased. I think the home games will return a similar amount of points, Man City and Arsenal are yet to play at White Hart Lane from which Spurs got full points from last season, but also Fulham and Cardiff (Wigan last season) for which they lost both games. The two toughest away games they have are at Liverpool and Chelsea, they only gained 1 point from the same games last season so do not have a lot of points to replace. Their away from, of which I am about to curse, has so far been good.

7: Man Utd: 76: 69-70.5: Buy

They will have a better second half of the season than they did the first. Sure in the second half of the season so far they dropped all three points at home against Spurs, but they did last season, so was in the numbers as an assumed result.

8: Newcastle: 47: 53.5-55: Sell

My nephew won’t be happy as an avid Newcastle fan but the points spread offered is some way above where the forecast is plotting them. The games they have remaining didn’t yield a lot of points for them last year. The forecast has them getting less than a point per game for the rest of the season. I don’t think they will finish as low as 47 but would still be selling the points tally being offered.

9: Southampton: 52: 52.5-54: Hold

They are a little hit and miss again following the great start to the season. Injuries, suspensions and fatigue have set in. I don’t see a big indicator away from the spread being offered to call either way, and with the concerns at the club surrounding who will be in-charge tomorrow let alone at the end of the season, i would avoid placing any money on Southampton either way.

10: Swansea: 44: 42.5-44: Hold

Any team can turn up when you play Swansea, they can be world beaters on any given day. They are hit and miss though and with Europe about to kick off again with a two leg Napoli distraction I think the point’s tally spread is in line with the forecast.

11: Hull: 35: 39-40.5: Hold

The forecast numbers using my assumptions have been skewed due to inheriting Reading’s results from last season, so I am avoiding this. I think they will stay up, they are spending money. All they need to do now is sort out the name debate and for what its worth I think the name should stay Hull City AFC. This is England, we are traditionalists, we do not have franchise football, and we don’t want it. Dr Allam, you have been great at Hull so far, leave it as Hull City AFC and concentrate your time, legal and marketing money on improving Hull City AFC and the local area. By all means give a name to something you have given birth to or created from nothing, but don’t change the name of a 110 year old club.

12: Aston Villa: 40: 39.5-40: Hold

The bookies have them finishing as the stats show. It is a shame really as I thought they had put in the hard graft last season and had turned the corner, that they were going to start pushing up the league a little with a little more consistency. They seem to have sizzled out a bit. They gave the Gooners a good run for their money the other night, but need a lot more consistency towards the back end of the season.

13: Stoke: 45: 39.5-41: Buy

A top half finish is in the sights of Stoke.  A change of manager hasn’t really had a huge change in fortunes, but they are showing the fight they have had since joining the premier league. So silly dropped points at home are built into the numbers from last seasons home loss against West Ham, and as a comparison only picked up 10 points away from home from the 9 away games, of which most are against bottom half opposition and I think they will better that in the latter stages of this season.

14: West Brom: 39: 39.5-41: Hold

They were a good solid outfit last season and have already dropped an additional 10 points from the 21 same games last season. At home they seemed to beat the teams they shouldn’t and lose to the teams they should, well that’s how the forecast looks, I can see them getting 6 points at home against Liverpool and Chelsea, but at the same time can see them getting more points than the zero obtained at home against stoke, Cardiff and Fulham last season. There is not real indication either side from the spread set at the bookies so avoiding this one.

15: West Ham: 39: 36-37.5: Buy

They wont get relegated. I think they are too good. They just need the ‘senior’ player to stop acting like an impetuous 17 year old. You simply can’t have your leader getting sent off so needlessly. It could be a blessing in disguise as it will give others a chance, and watching the game at Cardiff they definitely showed a lot more togetherness than I have seen (away from White Hart Lane of course where they have had a great amount of joy from this season). To reach the 39 forecasted points they only need to better 4 points from the remaining 8 away games and 15 from the 27 points available from home games.

16: Norwich: 42: 36.5-38: Buy

They have five very winnable games to come at home, one they could possibly win and three I can’t see them getting anything from of which last season they gained 17 points. This included beating Arsenal though and so I think the 17 points is the top end of what they will achieve from the remaining games. Away from home they only picked up 5 points from the equivalent 24 points available last season. With Cardiff, Swansea, Villa, Fulham, West Ham & Southampton on the away day calendar equally hit and miss they could see them selves getting the forecast 42 points and more importantly safety.

17: Fulham: 44: 34.5-36: Buy

The remaining fixtures do contain three good results they achieved away from home last season, 3 points at Spurs, Swansea and West Brom. I don’t see them achieving three away wins again but there is certainly enough games in their favour to gain more than the suggested 17 points the bookies are suggesting are at the top end of what they can achieve in the remainder of the season. I don’t think the 44 forecast will be achieved in full but they won’t be far off.

18: Cardiff: 36: 34-35.5: Hold

It’s been tough, especially when compared to their neighbours in Swansea.  Whilst I have no doubt Ole has a good understanding of the Premier League they do not look like picking up more points than the 36 forecasted to make.  Also considering the forecast contains away wins at Spurs, Southampton and West Brom I think the top end of the points Cardiff will achieve is already in the numbers. I hope the optimism of the club and the fans remain and that the forecast is wrong as I like having two teams of the county of Wales in the Premier League. If you haven’t been to Cardiff to watch sport go, it is home to, what I think is one of the greatest sporting venues, the millennium stadium and it is a great host city for most events.

19: Crystal Palace: 24: 30.5-32: Hold

The numbers say to sell, but realistically they have inherited terrible results from QPR, albeit that they are worse off season on season than the results they were skewed by the terrible results early on in the season. Tony Pulis has already forced through a change in fortunes but I don’t think they have enough quality or confidence to gain more than another 19ish points I think will be needed to stay up. It is all well drawing but they need some wins to gain points, and prevent others from getting those points and converting the draws to wins is going to be tough.

20: Sunderland: 36: 34.5-36: Hold

I think they will be on the cusp of relegation with 36 points. The forecast already includes them picking up 16 points from the 9 home games remaining, only 4 away from home though. They have some winnable games at home remaining that saw them drop points in last season, notably Swansea, Palace, Stoke, Southampton and West Brom, not winning any of the mentioned games. If they stay up it is going to have to be from home, away from home they have the hardest games to come: Arsenal, Newcastle, Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Man City, only away at Norwich is a game Gus is planning on taking a lot from. The derby at St James' could be as crucial in the run in as it was last season.

To Conclude as at 15th January 2014 the bets I would personally consider placing versus the final league points spead being offered are:


Man City @ 84, Man Utd @ 70.5, Spurs @ 70, Stoke @ 41, Norwich @ 38, Fulham @ 36, West Ham @ 37.5


Everton @ 67.5, Newcastle @ 53.5

How it works, The Assumptions.
We assume the previous season’s results as the starting point for the current season.

We then overwrite the previous result with the current seasons result as the game is played.
The league table is then adjusted to reflect the forecast finish for each team after 38 games.

Each promoted team inherits the respective relegated team, for the season 2013/14 the changes are as follows. Agreed this is the largest assumption but one would estimate that the premier league teams should be stronger and so the results of the teams remaining in the division start with the previous results. Quite appropriately the promoted sides are the wildcards in the top division for the first season.
Cardiff as the champions of the Championship inherit the previous seasons results of 18th positioned Wigan

Hull as the Championship runner up inherit the previous seasons results of 19th positioned Reading
Crystal Palace as the promoted team via the playoffs inherit the previous seasons results of bottom of the table QPR

Sunday 17 November 2013

World Cup Final - Striker Light?

What happens to the World's leading goalscorers in the World Cup Final?

Jurgen Klinsmann, Romario, Bebeto, Roberto Baggio, Miroslav Klose, Oliver Bierhoff, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Robin van Persie, David Villa, Fernando Torres. All great players, all big names, all prolific scorers.

Between them they have 77 goals in World Cup tournaments.

All have played in World Cup Finals, all have failed to score.

For those fans lucky enough to get Brazil 2014 Finals Tickets, the chances are that it's not going to be decided by a striker.

The principal reason for starting this site was to see who the big game players were, and by looking at the ranking of the opponents, we've been able to identify these to an extent. But what of the biggest game of all? When researching the Thierry Henry vs Ruud van Nistelrooy comparison, I noticed the quality of Forwards on show in France's 1998 and 2006 World Cup Final appearances. Brazil's Ronaldo and Bebeto, France's Thierry Henry and Trezeguet, and Italy's Del Piero, Toni, and Totti. All quality players, yet none made an impact on the scoresheet.

And it's not just the 1998 and 2006 Finals. The 1986 Final saw goals from Burruchaga and Valdano for the winners Argentina, whilst Voller and Rummenigge did the same for the West Germans in a 3-2 defeat. Since then only one Striker has scored in the biggest game in World Football. Granted, it's only once every four years, but that's still 6 games, 12 teams, and on average two strikers per team - 24 opportunities. Only the great (and real) Ronaldo has managed to break the pattern with his 2 goals in 2002 - and the big story there was redemption from the 1998 Final, where he was anonymous - albeit under strange circumstances.

Two great Forwards, only one truly big game Scorer
On closer inspection, you could argue that the big game players in those Finals have been the defenders and keepers. On 6 occasions in the 6 World Cup Finals from 1990, there has been clean sheets kept. In fact, the only occasion that the runner ups have scored was in the 2006 Final, when Zidane scored from the spot, before seeing red.
Last 6 World Cup Finals
Indeed, the 2010 World Cup Final saw some vital saves from Iker Casillas, whilst the 1998 and 2006 winners, France and Italy, were teams built on strong defensive models. In those 6 World Cups there were five goals for Midfielders, and two each for Defenders and Forwards.
So why is this the case?
Change in Mentality:
For a start, the games are now a lot tighter. The mentality seems to have changed from the beautiful attacking game, to keeping it tight and building from the back. Although the 1986 Final was a classic, certainly in terms of goals scored, the change in mentality can be traced back to the 1982 World Cup.

Most commentators regularly nominate the 1970 Brazil team as the best side of all time, however, there is also a case for the 1982 side. Containing the likes of Zico, Socrates and Falcao, it has been described by many as the best team of all time, and certainly one of the best to watch. However, their lack of silverware coupled with a similar failure for Holland's Total Football team in the 1970s convinced coaches that attractive football didn't win trophies, as described more eloquently here and here.
The average number of goals in the last 6 finals is a miserly 1.5 per game. By way of comparison, the previous 6 finals generated a massive 27 goals, at an average of 4.5 goals per game.
Previous 6 World Cup Finals
Not a clean sheet in sight, which perhaps best illustrates the change in mentality. Of the 27 goals, 16 were scored by the front men. Comparing different era's can never be conclusive due to all of the different factors, but a swing from 4.5 goals per game to 1.5 per game certainly points to a trend.
The Occasion:

There's also the small matter of the Occasion. Whilst the World Cup Final has always been the biggest game in World football, the scale has undoubtedly increased, with the number of teams, the number of viewers and the coverage. The fact that the game is once every 4 years also adds to it. The idea of making a mistake at this level, with the World's eyes on you, and having to wait 4 years to make ammends (see Ronaldo) must undoubtedly play a part. It's also worth noting that most players to play the game don't even get a chance to experience the World Cup, let alone play in the Final.

So what of the next biggest games in Football - The European Championship Final and the Copa America Final. After that, you have Champions League Final, though of course this is repeated on an annual basis. So are those finals similarly troublesome for Forwards?

European Championships 1992-2012
European Championships Finals

Well the short answer is no. Of the last 6 European Championships Finals, there's been 8 goals by the forwards. Interstingly enough, Bierhoff, Torres, Wiltord and Trezeguet have all played in a World Cup Final without scoring.

Upon further investigation, the same patterns seen in the change of era and mentality can also be applied to the Euro's when comparing to the 6 prior finals - though not to a same extent. The average number of goals in the last 6 finals is 2.3 compared to 3 goals in the previous 6 finals. There were also only 2 clean sheets in the finals from 1964 to 1984 as opposed to the 4 in the last 6.

Similarly, for the South American equivalent, the Copa America, there's no problem for the Strikers there either. Of the last 6 tournament finals, only the 2001 Final won by Colombia didn't have a goal by a forward. And that Tournament was different due to the stay away stars - after fear of kidnapping. It was the host's Ivan Cordoba (DF) that settled it that year. In the other years? Ronaldo (in two finals), Rivaldo, Adriano, Suarez, Forlan, Edmundo and Delgado were all on the score sheet. As the tournament was previously held every 2 years, even going back to 1993 saw a couple by Garbiel Batistuta. Familiar names, performing on one of the biggest stages, but not the biggest.

And then there's the Champions League. It doesn't take much investigation to see the impact that forwards have had on the most recent finals - Mandzukic in 2013, Drogba in 2012, Messi, Villa, Pedro and Rooney all scored in 2011, Diego Milito grabbed a brace in 2010, whilst Messi and Eto did the business in 2009, both having scored in two separate finals.

All massive tournaments, but not the big one. Not the best players in the whole world and not the same coverage. The World Cup Final is the pinnacle in the career of any player, and it's only natural that nerves play a part in the biggest occasion of their careers.
There's also the matter of player form, both in the Tournament and the proceeding season. The 2010 World Cup Final showcased the talents of Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, and David Villa, with supporting roles played by Kuyt, Robben and van der Vaart.
Robin van Persie wasn't fully fit going into the tournament
Looking at the form and fitness leading into the Tournaments, in 2010 Robin van Persie and Fernando Torres were battling for full fitness, and it showed. Since the 2010 Final, van Persie has scored a phenomenal 50 goals in 63 games for Arsenal, whilst Torres had 39 in 70 games for Liverpool before the tournament. Timing can be very important with over coming injuries. Torres for example was injured from April 2010, and endured a miserable World Cup, with no goals in seven games. Similarly, van Persie only scored one goal in the same number of games, whilst not fully fit.
However, Brazil's Ronaldo had missed the best part of 2 years with serious knee injuries going into the 2002 tournament, but crucially, his return to fitness allowed him to play 16 games for Inter, and regain some of his match fitness and sharpness. With that momentum in force, he went on to score 8 goals, and is the only Forward to score in Football's biggest game since 1986.
World Cup Final Forwards 2002-2010
In terms of club season, notable efforts include Henry and Toni's 33 goal hauls, Trezeguet's 29 and Villa's 28. Yet despite the great club form, none of them could manage it in the World Cup Final. In terms of tournament form, Klose, Rivaldo and Villa all had impressive totals of 5 goals in their 6 apperances prior to the Final, but yet again, none were able to repeat the recent good form in the Final.
There isn't a clear conclusion on why Forwards have a poor goal scoring record in recent World Cup Finals. There is the changing dynamics of football tactics, which have certainly contributed to the number of goals scored, but that doesn't explain why Midfielders have still managed to get in on the scoring. Perhaps you can point to the tight marking that Forwards have to endure, whilst they make space for the players running from deep. But then when we've looked at the other big games outside of the World Cup, the pattern hasn't repeated - with Forwards dominating the goal scoring.
There's the pressure of the biggest spectator event in the World hanging over the players, something that leads them to be terrified to make mistakes, and play safely, and perhaps even within themselves somewhat. With that pressure, there is the need for a strong psychology. It's surely no coincidence that Ronaldo scored in his second World Cup Final appearance (as did Zidane).
There's other aspects as well that haven't been covered above - such as how their team mates have performed. Strikers very much rely on the rest of the team to create chances for them. If the rest of the team are also playing it safe, and with the opposition much more defensive (as we've seen), then all the clever running and positioning in the world won't help in front of goal, unless you have the ball.
So in conclusion, the changing mentality of tactics, the pressure of the event, the luck with injuries and the performances of their team mates, all contribute to a Forwards chances of scoring in the World Cup Final.
And nerve.
Look at the major Finals that Brazil's Ronaldo has played in, 1998 World Cup excluded (on medical grounds). He has played and scored in the 2002 World Cup Final, the 1997 and 1999 Copa America Finals, the 1997 Cup Winners Cup Final, and the 1998 UEFA Cup Final. He epitomises the big game mentality that's needed. Similarly, Zinedine Zidane had the same mentality, scoring in two World Cup Finals, and a Champions League Final. It's this ability to perform on the biggest stages that makes them truly great players.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Player Comparison: Ferdinand & Vidic vs Bruce & Pallister

Next up in the Player Comparison series is a slightly different approach - it'll be a comparison of pairs, in this case the two great Manchester United Centre Back Partnerships of the last 25 years. With apologies to 1999's Stam and Johnsen, this is a look at which partnership has been best (statistically) between the 20th Century's Bruce and Pallister, and the 21st Century's Ferdinand and Vidic....


Steve Bruce was the first to join the club in 1987 after captaining Norwich City to a 5th Place finish in the 1986-87 season. Just short of his 27th birthday, Bruce cost the Manchester Club £800k and made his debut in a 2-1 win over Portsmouth on December 19th. He's been described as the best player never to have been capped by England, joining the likes of Billy Bonds and Julian Dicks (what?).
Gary Pallister joined two seasons later for £2.3m which was then a national record for a defender. Like Bruce, he also helped his club to promotion, but as soon as Middlesbrough headed back down, it was just a matter of time before the England International moved on. Five years Bruce's junior, he signed for United at the age of 24. In the 1992-93 season, the two of them formed the solid foundations at the back that led the club to their first English Title since Matt Busby's team in 1967.

Fast forward to 2002 and it was Rio Ferdinand breaking transfer records as he became the most expensive British footballer of all time and the most expensive defender in the World, for just short of £30m as he left Leeds United. Aged just 21, he was joining the seven time Premier League Champions following an impressive World Cup.
And finally, Nemanja Vidic joined the Red Devils in the January 2006 transfer window for a bargain £7m from Spartak Moscow. Whilst he was joining the biggest team in the country, they had failed to win the title since 2003.


I'll only be looking at the games they played together as partnerships, to see which pair performed better. When looking at League Games, and in keeping with the theme of the site, I'll be ranking the opposition by Bottom 6, Middle 8, and Top 6 - to get an idea of how they performed in the big games. The workings are available in the Rules & Workings menu above.

As they're still playing and will make this post instantly out of date, Ferdinand and Vidic's records are only taken up to the end of 2012-13.

Results and Goals Conceded

And so onto the stats. Want to check a successful defence? Well surely goals conceded per game is the obvious place to start. As partnerships, in all competitions, Bruce and Pallister (Brullister? Pace? Neither?) played a whopping 317 games together, compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's (Ferdic? Vidinand? Okay, I'm sorry), surprisingly low 183. Considering they've been at the club together for close to eight years, that's quite a low number.
Both partnerships conceded less than a goal per game, with the newer partnership on top with just 0.72 goals conceded per game, to Bruce and Pallister's 0.89. It should be remembered however, that Ferdinand and Vidic only ever played in a title chasing or title winning team. Bruce and Pallister started playing together in 1988-89, finishing 13th, followed by an 11th placed league placing in the following year. The lowest Ferdinand and Vidic finished is 3rd.

Bruce and Pallister had a decent 57% win rate compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's 70%.

Clean Sheets

A straightforward victory for the more recent partnership, albeit with a caveat of the teams they came into. After goals conceded per game, clean sheets are perhaps the most telling statistic for a defence. And both pairs have a very impressive number - the older duo keeping over 100 together compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's 92 in all competitions.

Once again, when taking into account the number of games played, the current Man Utd partnership come out on top, with a clean sheet every 1.99 games in all competitions. It's easy to see why they've won so many league titles, and reached three Champions League Finals in four seasons.

You can point to the quality of the teams that they played in again, but to counter that, Bruce and Pallister had a shield of Ince and Keane in front of them for two full seasons (1993-95). Compare that to Michael Carrick since 2006 as the predominant holding midfielder, and the current pairing play in a more open team.

Big Games

As mentioned above, the idea behind the site is to pick out big game players - so how did the two pairs do when separating the better teams. There are notable games to pick out, such as the aforementioned Champions League Finals (no clean sheets for Vidic and Ferdinand), or the 1991 Cup Winners Cup victory against Barcelona (2-1), but it's difficult to quantify which games should be included, so with that in mind, I'll look at the league games. I've kept the Top 6/Middle 8/Bottom 6 split to check the range of opponent, but it's worth noting that Bruce and Pallister played in some league seasons containing more than 20 teams. Where that is the case, the Top 6 and Bottom 6 will remain, but the middle group will increase.


No surprises here, with a clear win in every field for Ferdinand and Vidic. They let in a miserly 0.7 goals per match in the Premier League, and in the big games, it's close to just one goal per game when they play together. That's not to say that Bruce and Pallister had a poor record, far from it. With only 0.87 goals conceded per game, it was one of the great defences - and it's worth noting that they played almost 100 more games together in the League.

Ferdinand and Vidic also kept clean sheets more often, with one every 1.97 games, and only 2.2 games against the Top 6 teams - compared to a clean sheet every 3.33 games against the Top 6 for Bruce and Pallister.

So once again, it's Ferdinand and Vidic on top.

What's that? What if I looked at the seasons that Bruce and Pallister were in title challenging teams? To level the playing fields you say? Well, if you insist - here's the same stats for the North East duo from 1992 to 1996 (three titles and one final day 2nd place):

Well well well. That certainly evens things up. Now, in almost an identical number of games, they're stats are pretty close - with only 0.78 goals conceded per game, and only 2.20 games per clean sheet. However, Ferdinand and Vidic still edge them out in the biggest games - the games that you need to win in order to win the league - against the Top 6 rivals. They've kept 5 more clean sheets than their predecessors - though Bruce and Pallister can point to a lower goals conceded number of 0.97 to 1.03.

It's still favouring Ferdinand and Vidic, but it's a lot closer.

Other big games? Well if I delve into the AverageOpposition.com mega mainframe then by choosing all Finals (excluding Charity/Community shields), Bruce and Pallister have clean sheets in two FA Cup Finals (Palace and Chelsea), the League Cup (Forest), and the Super Cup Final against Red Star Belgrade. Ferdinand and Vidic in response have two clean sheets in Finals - both League Cup (Wigan and Spurs). They each have individual clean sheets, but this is about partnerships - like Riggs and Murtagh, Laurel and Hardy or John and Edward.


Not really a measure of defensive brilliance, but it's worth noting Bruce's value to the team with his whopping 51 goals - some vital in winning trophies (such as that Sheffield Wednesday brace). Pallister (15), Vidic (19) and Ferdinand (8), don't really come close in this regard. All of which helped Bruce in his "Cult Hero" with the fans. In fact, this is an area where Bruce and Pallister definitely have the upper hand, both having ended the long wait for the League Title for the Manchester Giants.

In terms of opposition, you could argue that the quality of forwards has changed, but it's hard to quantify. For every Klinsmann and 90's Alan Shearer for Bruce and Pallister to face, there's been an Henry or a van Persie for Ferdinand and Vidic.


Normally I find these things end in a draw, and whilst this one is very close, the stats favour Ferdinand and Vidic. Even when looking at the seasons when Bruce and Pallister were in a title challenging team, the stats still favour the latter partnership.

The Ferdinand-Vidic Partnership wouldn't have existed if it weren't for the success of Bruce and Pallister but they've built on that early Manchester United success to bring it to another level - most notably in Europe. It's also worth noting as mentioned above that the Bruce-Pallister partnership had a shield of Keane and Ince for two seasons.

I'm well aware that Stats aren't everything, and can indeed be used to prove most arguments, so make of them what you will!